All hail Saliba! Arsenal's new superstar ready for world domination after Chelsea masterclass
Arsenal’s meeting with Chelsea on Sunday felt like a changing of the guard in many ways - and not only because it was the latest example of how the Gunners have moved ahead of the Blues in the current London pecking order.
But more so when it came to two of the centre-backs who were on show at Stamford Bridge.
On one side you had the 38-year-old Thiago Silva, one of the greatest defenders of his generation. On the other, however, you had William Saliba. A player 17 years younger than Silva, but one who looks like he could go on and dominate the centre-back scene across Europe for the foreseeable future.
Saliba was simply sensational at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Along with the equally impressive Gabriel Magalhaes, he limited Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to just eight touches during a totally dominant display from Mikel Arteta’s side.
It was a statement performance from Arsenal, and Saliba was at the heart of it.
He made 58 passes, more than any other player on the pitch. He had 72 touches, only Thomas Partey (75) had more. Saliba gained possession (13) more than any other Arsenal player. He also topped the charts for interceptions (3) and blocks (1).
It was a performance of such maturity and composure that it was little wonder that he walked away with the Man of the Match award.
“I think that pair again were outstanding,” Arteta said after the game, while discussing his two centre-backs. “That’s why we sustained them [Chelsea] really well, especially when we had to defend open spaces. They did it, great.”
Saliba has been a sensation since he arrived back at Arsenal in the summer following his season-long stay with Marseille last time out.
Having not played a single competitive game for the club since his £27 million move from Saint-Etienne in 2019, the Frenchman returned with many questioning whether he would succeed under Arteta.
But he silenced those doubters from the moment he stole the show on his full debut away at Crystal Palace on the opening day of the Premier League season. From then on, he has gone from strength to strength, with his partnership with Gabriel the bedrock of Arsenal’s table-topping start to the campaign.
The two centre-backs have started every single league game this season and the chemistry between them is there for all to see.
“There is a connection,” Arteta said. “You can feel it. There is a chemistry.I think they make each other better with the qualities that they have and they have been really consistent in terms of their performance.”
🏆 PL Player of the Match— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 6, 2022
😍 How much love for Wilo's performance, Gooners? pic.twitter.com/kgEw0F4STL
What Saliba is doing in his debut season in the Premier League is phenomenal, and his performance at Stamford Bridge on Sunday was a perfect microcosm of his campaign as a whole.
There has been no bedding in period, no need for any time to adjust. The France international looks like he has been playing in England for years.
In 13 Premier League appearances this season, he ranks fourth for tackles (28) by a centre-back and first for recoveries (114). He also tops the charts for total carries made by a central defender (232) and for goals scored (2).
The young Arsenal star is fifth for successful passes (784), eighth for touches (965) and his minutes per goals conceded average of 105.1 sees him rank third in the top flight. He has also been dribbled past on just one occasion this season, and that was when Son Heung-min briefly got the better of him in the North London derby.
“The way he has established himself, the composure and leadership he has shown on the pitch has been really good,” Arteta said. “And he has done it in a really natural way without any flashing lights, just being himself. He’s very quiet and at the same time very confident.”
Saliba was famously described as a ‘Rolls Royce’ by Aaron Ramsdale earlier in the season. And at Chelsea on Sunday, you could see why.
He seemed to be in cruise control as he glided across the sodden Stamford Bridge pitch at times. From snuffing out the threat of Aubameyang with ease, to leaving three Chelsea players in his wake while racing down the right wing with 15 minutes remaining.
It was the performance of a centre-back who has everything at his disposal to be one of the best Europe has to offer, and one which he will hope to replicate when representing France in his first World Cup in the coming weeks.
For Arsenal now, the priority is getting Saliba tied down to a new long-term contract. His current deal expires in the summer, but the club do have an option to extend that stay by a further 12 months.
Talks are ongoing over fresh terms which will see the defender rewarded for his fine form and his new found standing in the team. Arsenal are hopeful that an agreement will soon be reached, with supporters desperate for a swift and successful end to the negotiations.
The Gunners have a new superstar in Saliba. He was a long time coming in the Premier League, but the Frenchman has already proved to be well worth the wait.